The top Republican on a House subcommittee has raised questions about whether the Interior Department “improperly awarded safety certifications to BP, Transocean and the Deepwater Horizon rig,” which exploded on April 20 and led to a major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that is quickly becoming one of the most significant environmental disasters in recent history (see related story).

“Reports indicate that the Deepwater Horizon appears to have had a faulty ‘dead-man shut-off switch, which if functioning properly could have averted this massive spill,” wrote Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the ranking Republican on the Subcommittee of Oversight and Government Reform, in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar Monday.

“The malfunctioning ‘failsafe’ device raises serious questions about any safety inspections or audits conducted by MMS [Interior’s Minerals Management Service] or third parties during the certification process. This, in turn, casts serious doubt upon any safety awards that MMS may have granted to BP and/or Transocean within the past year,” he said.

In addition, “news reports indicate that MMS may have sidelined regulatory efforts that would have brought the U.S. oil industry in line with prevailing industry safety standards, which mandate the use of remote-controlled acoustic shut-off valves. If true, MMS will need to explain why it chose to do so,” Issa said.

BP leased the rig from Transocean. The subcommittee has called Lamar McKay, president of BP America Inc; and Steven Newman, president of Transocean Ltd., to testify at a hearing next Monday, as well as David J. Lesar, president of Halliburton Co. Halliburton provided services to the rig, including cementing of the well.

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